Srinagar, Oct 28: After being briefed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval in New Delhi on Monday, an unofficial delegation of 27 European Union (EU) members is visiting Kashmir on Tuesday (today) to access the situation in the region.
This is the first foreign delegation to visit the valley which is under a clampdown since August 5 when the Centre revoked Article 370 and divided and relegated the state into two union territories.
Reports said that the visit was “not official” and the EU members “were visiting Kashmir in their personal capacity.”
“The delegation is not on an official visit in India and came here at the invitation of a non-government group. We are not organising any of their meetings,” Al Jazeera quoted an EU official in India saying.
Interestingly, 80% of the visiting delegation members are from rightwing European parties.
“Two out of 27 MPs visiting Kashmir are affiliated to European far-right parties. The MPs are from parties with hardline views on Muslim immigration,” said NDTV in its news broadcast.
As per reports, NSA Doval briefed the delegation on cross-border militancy, constitutional changes made in the status of Jammu and Kashmir with the revocation of Article 370 and the situation in the valley.
Doval also hosted a lunch for the European lawmakers. Those present included some Kashmiri leaders, including PDP leader Muzaffar Baig, former PDP leader Altaf Bukhari, and some newly-elected Block Development Council (BDC) members in the state.
According to sources, the delegation members will be briefed by top officials about the on-ground situation in Kashmir.
“They will meet residents and owners of the boats in Dal Lake and may tour some parts of the city,” sources said.
“The delegation will also meet J&K administration officials and locals in the valley. During the two-day visit, they are also likely to call on the Governor and interact with the media,” sources said.
The delegation includes Italy’s Fulvio Martusciello, UK’s David Richard Bull, Italy’s Gianna Gancia, France’s Julie Lechanteux, Czech Republic’s Tomas Zdechovsky, Slovakia’s Peter Pollak and Germany’s Nicolas Fest.
“It (abrogation of Article 370) is India’s internal matter as Kashmir is its part. It is the prerogative of Indian government to take internal decisions. We are with India on this,” Zdechovsky told PTI.
In his article in the European Parliament’s monthly newspaper last month, Zdechovsky said the abrogation of Article 370 “will help in rooting out several militant organisations operating in Kashmir”.
“Following the article I received many hate mails from Pakistan,” he said.
Advocating an approach of dialogue, Pollak said, “Both India and Pakistan should talk to avoid escalation in the region.”
Another lawmaker said the briefing by Doval was very “informative” and gave a perspective on the entire issue.
The visit comes on the heels of a US Congressional meeting in Washington, where a group of lawmakers expressed concern about the situation in Jammu and Kashmir following the Centre’s move to end the state’s special status granted under the Constitution.
Alice Wells, the Acting US Assistant Secretary of State, had said the US State department had “raised concerns with the Indian government regarding the detentions of local residents and political leaders, including three former Chief Ministers of Jammu and Kashmir”.
“We have urged Indian authorities to respect human rights and restore full access to services, including internet and mobile networks,” she said at the meeting held last week.
Internet services — across all platforms — continued to be snapped across the valley since the night of 4 August while mobile telephony was restored just a few weeks ago.
The efforts of the state government to open schools have not borne any fruit as parents have continued to keep children at home due to apprehensions about their safety.
However, authorities are making preparations for holding all board examinations as per schedule.
As many as 400 people, including top-level and second-rung separatists and politicians, have been taken into preventive custody, while mainstream leaders, including two former chief ministers — Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti — have either been detained or placed under house arrest.
Another former chief minister and the Lok Sabha MP from Srinagar, Farooq Abdullah, has been arrested under the controversial Public Safety Act, a law enacted by his father and National Conference (NC) founder Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah in 1978 when he was the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir.
Following the news of the delegation’s visit, Iltija Mufti, the daughter of detained Mehbooba Mufti, tweeted: “Hope they get a chance to speak to the people, local media, doctors and civil society members. The iron curtain between Kashmir & the world needs to be lifted and GOI must be held accountable for pushing J&K into turmoil”.
Another tweet of hers read: “If 28 European Parliament members are allowed to take stock of situation in Kashmir, wonder why the same courtesy can’t be extended to American senators. Won’t be surprised if GOIs indulging in normalcy acrobatics again & orchestrating ‘normalcy’ certificates.”
Opposition, Swamy slam govt
‘Allow EU lawmakers to meet Mehbooba, Abdullahs’
Srinagar, Oct 28: Questioning the timing and the motive of the visit, political parties in Kashmir have asked Centre to allow European Union (EU) delegation to meet three incarcerated former chief ministers, civil society members and general public if they really want to have an “objective” assessment of the situation in the valley.
A 41-member delegation including 28 EU parliamentarians is visiting valley on Tuesday for on the spot assessment of the ground situation post abrogation of article 370.
National Conference (NC) said the exercise will be result oriented only when the delegation is allowed to meet three detained former chief ministers and civil society members.
“They (delegation) should be allowed to have an objective and fair assessment of ground situation. One of the incarcerated leaders has been a former foreign minister of the country. Their efforts can prove productive only when they meet people, civil society and politicians,” said Justice (retd) Hasnain Masoodi, NC Member of Parliament from Anantnag.
Masoodi said he had contacted authorities to allow the delegation to meet the incarcerated leaders. “But Deputy Commissioner didn’t respond to my calls. I want European Union to meet detained leadership and political parties,” he added.
Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) questioned the delegation’s visit three months after abrogation of article 370. “The sudden visit of European delegation to Kashmir seems very fishy. I called European Commission office in New Delhi and they informed me that the visit was a private one,” said Iltija Mufti, daughter of former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti.
She said EU lawmakers’ visit is being facilitated at a time when many politicians have been barred from visiting to the valley. “Why Rahul Gandhi had to approach Supreme Court? Why he still couldn’t visit Kashmir? Why wasn’t same courtesy shown by government to US senator, who had desired to visit the valley to know about the ground situation? The visit entirely seems fake and orchestrated to me,” Mufti said.
She also supported NC’s demand for allowing the delegation to meet incarcerated politicians. “Let they meet Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries, which have suffered huge losses after abrogation of article 370. If their intentions are clean then they should meet Mehbooba Mufti, Jammu and Kashmir High Court Bar Association and women who run various NGOs,” Mufti said.
Congress also lashed out at the Centre for facilitating the delegation visit while barring their party leadership to visit Kashmir.
“If PMO can host an EU member delegation and facilitate their visit to Kashmir then why are they not extending the same courtesy to opposition members and opposition leaders who are PMO’s own countrymen,” said Congress spokesperson Jaiveer Shergill.
Congress MP Shashi Tharoor too questioned the logic behind the central government’s move.
“My request, made during the Lok Sabha debate on Article 370, for an All-Party delegation of MPs to visit to see the situation for themselves, has still not been accepted. But members of the European Parliament can travel as our government’s guests? What an #InsultToIndianDemocracy!” he tweeted.
Senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh asked as to why the “chest-beating champion of nationalism”, in an apparent swipe at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has allowed European leaders to visit Jammu and Kashmir.
“When Indian political leaders have been prevented from meeting the people of J&K, what possessed the great chest-beating champion of nationalism to allow European politicians to visit J&K. This is an outright insult to India’s own Parliament and our democracy,” he also tweeted.
BJP’s outspoken Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament Subramanian Swamy too slammed the decision to allow the delegation of Members of European Parliament to visit Kashmir and demanded its cancellation.
Swamy described the move as a “perversion” of the country’s policy.
This will be the first foreign delegation to visit Kashmir since the abrogation of Art 370.
“I am surprised that the MEA (Ministry of External Affairs) has arranged for European Union MPs, in their private capacity (not the EU’s official delegation), to visit Kashmir area of J&K. This is a perversion of our national policy. I urge the Government to cancel this visit because it is immoral,” Swamy tweeted.
Baig, Bukhari, ors meet delegation in Delhi
Srinagar, Oct 28: Top politicians including PDP patron and former deputy chief minister Muzaffar Hussain Baig and former finance minister Altaf Bukhari on Monday met European Union (EU) parliamentarians in New Delhi.
A 41 member delegation including 28 EU parliamentarians are arriving here on Tuesday for on the spot assessment of the ground situation post abrogation of article 370.
Apart from Baig and Bukhari, chairman of All J&K Panchayat Association Shafeeq Mir, former Congress MLA Usman Majeed and other politicians also met the delegation in the national capital on Monday.
“Yes, I met with the EU delegates but as an ex- MP. I told them that Shimla agreement clearly mentions about holding bilateral negotiations between India and Pakistan to resolve Kashmir issue. I asked EU delegation that there can’t be any solution till India and Pakistan sit on table to discuss Kashmir,” Baig told The Kashmir Monitor.
Former deputy chief minister asserted that EU delegates didn’t ask him anything about the detention of the political leaders or the situation in Kashmir. “They didn’t ask any question about internal politics of the state. It was a very brief meeting,” he said.
On the other side, Shafeeq Mir said delegates enquired from him about governance at grassroots level. “We only discussed about functioning of Panchayats. The recently concluded Block Development Council was also discussed in the meeting,” he said.
Efforts to contact Altaf Bukhari did not yield results as he did not take the call. Sources however said he also met the delegation individually and discussed Kashmir situation with them.